The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Learning Buddies

When I got hired to work at Wiley, I found myself partnering with another new teacher who was hired shortly after me. There were four who were hired the same summer, but three of us were hired during the two weeks before school started. It was a crazy stressful time, with lots of collaborating on the fly, but we used all of our professional skills and leaned heavily on other teachers in the building to get through that first year. I will be forever grateful for my coworkers who mentored me, guided me, counseled me, and put up with me as I was trying to figure out what on earth I was doing! (I will also be grateful to the parents who were patient and supportive. Their children are now in their last year in middle school but, from all I’ve heard, they are doing quite well!)

One way that Miss C, as I’ve decided just a few minutes ago to call her, and I partnered together was by creating reading buddies with our two classes. She was teaching second grade and I was teaching fourth. The buddies were a success and so we decided to continue to partner, even as she moved down to teaching first grade the next year. After three years, we determined that our reading buddy program was awesome and we made a bulletin board in the main hallway to showcase the students’ work.

During that year, Miss C and I both had students, two sisters, whose mother was very active in volunteering in our classrooms. One day she asked if there was anything she could do and I asked if she could put up new student work samples on our reading buddies bulletin board. The title of the board I had put up was “Reading Buddies Help Us Learn!” While updating the board, this wonderful parent volunteer took down all the words before realising that they could have stayed up. As she started laying the letters out, she couldn’t quite remember what it had said, but she did her best and came up with “Learning Buddies Help Us Read!”

This turned out to be the single greatest accident of my teaching career so far! Miss C and I looked at it and realised how much more we could do if we went from being just reading buddies to being learning buddies. A lot of the first grade and fourth grade curriculum overlap, with first graders learning the basics of a concept and the fourth graders delving deeper. We compared our science and social studies curricula and saw this most. So we decided that we would implement learning buddies for the 2014-2015 school year.

This new change required quite a bit of planning, which we were able to do during the Chancellor’s Academy we attended through the University of Illinois and through online planning sessions. I had also acquired some new books for my classroom and we decided that one of them would be perfect to start this collaborative endeavour this year.

Kathryn Otoshi is a children’s book author and illustrator who wrote the book One a few years ago. She followed it up with a sequel of sorts, called Zero. I have heard rumours that there is a third book in the series, Two, set to come out this fall.

After bring my class down to Miss C’s room, we gathered the students and I read the story aloud. Then we talked briefly about the main idea of the story, which is that everyone matters. One way that we can show others that they matter is by remembering their names. We introduced all of the students to their buddies and then gave them bookmarks made from paint colour samples and ribbon. On one side, each student wrote his or her own name; on the other side, they wrote the names of their learning buddies. Then they decorated with stickers. All twenty-two of my fourth graders were working with all twenty of Miss C’s first graders. All were cooperating, all were helping, and all were having fun.

We are going to gather every Wednesday afternoon for half an hour or so for learning buddies throughout the year. The students are going to work together on many different projects, covering the span of literacy, science, social studies, math, and even physical education concepts. I am really excited for our plans this year and cannot wait to see what the students think of next week’s project!

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